Oregon just became the first state in the nation to allow dentists to offer any vaccination to a patient.
Minnesota and Illinois do allow dentists to vaccinate, but only for the flu and only in adults.
Allowing dentists to offer any vaccine is the Oregon Legislature’s response to the Beaver State's low vaccination rates.
Gov. Kate Brown signed the bill into law May 6. But before dentists can actually start giving vaccines, the Oregon Board of Dentistry has to come up with rules to implement the new rules.
For example, says board director Stephen Prisby, how will dentists know what vaccines a patient has already had?
“They won’t have all the vaccine history of a patient. They’ll have to communicate with the primary health care provider or have access to those records. So that’s one of those wrinkles we’ll have to be addressing in rules,” Prisby said.
He expects the board to have a full set of implementation rules by Jan. 1, 2020.
One vaccination rate that might significantly improve with dentists involved is the human papillomavirus. It’s known for causing cervical cancer, but it’s also a leading cause of oral cancer.
Oregon Dental Association President James McMahan said dentists are always looking for ways to improve patients’ health.
“We sponsored House Bill 2220 to increase access to care, providing additional opportunities for patients to receive life-saving vaccines from highly trained practitioners they already know and trust,” he said.
The dean of the OHSU School of Dentistry, Philip Marucha, worked with the Oregon Dental Association to write the bill. He thinks it'll improve vaccination rates, particularly for the flu.
“If you have a routine dental cleaning in the fall, just as the flu season typically starts, you can also get vaccinated at the same time,” he said.
“This simple convenience can help bridge gaps in care and prevent the spread of infectious disease. We’re offering Oregonians another option that can make it easier to stay healthy.”
Marucha said dentists are well equipped to provide vaccinations because they routinely provide injections in a challenging location – the mouth. He points out they also have extensive training in anatomy, microbiology and autoimmune response.
OHSU is working with the Oregon Board of Dentistry, Oregon Board of Pharmacy, Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Dental Association to determine how dentists should be trained before they provide vaccinations.
As Oregon’s only dental school, the OHSU School of Dentistry will likely provide hands-on vaccination training to both practicing dentists and dental students.